Shootzilla: How Did She Get Paying Customers BEFORE She Even Launched Her Product? – with Esther de Boer

Posted on Jul 12, 2013 - 9:00 AM PST

How did this founder get paying customers before she even launched her product?

Esther de Boer is the founder of Shootzilla, which helps photographers manage their photo shoots. She used a process she learned from The Foundation. I asked her to describe how she did it.

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About Esther de Boer

Esther de Boer -1
Esther de Boer is the founder of Shootzilla, which helps photographers manage their photo shoots.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Andrew: All right, let’s get started. Hey there, freedom fighters! My name is Andrew Warner. I’m founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Hey, get this. I’ve got a founder on who got paying customers for her business before she even launched a product. Esther de Boer is the founder of Shootzilla, which helps photographers manage their photo shoots. I wanted to do this interview to show how founders are discovering their customers’ pain before launching, and how they’re validating their solution for that pain by asking customers to pay up. Esther, welcome.

Esther: Thank you.

Andrew: You got them to pay up. How much revenue have you generated so far?

Esther: About ten to eleven thousand dollars.

Andrew: Ten to eleven thousand dollars.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: Already I’m seeing a discrepancy between what you told me and what you told April and what you’re saying. I’ve got twelve thousand on my screen. Where’s the difference?

Esther: Yeah, that’s including VAT.

Andrew: Including what?

Esther: VAT, which is taxes in the Netherlands.

Andrew: Oh, I see. So, including taxes that they pay you twelve thousand dollars, then you pay those taxes out in the Netherlands, and basically keeping ten to eleven thousand dollars.

Esther: Yeah. So far.

Andrew: Is that where you are right now? In the Netherlands?

Esther: Yeah. So including VAT, I’m at thirteen or fourteen now.

Andrew: Have you launched the product yet?

Esther: No, I’m going to launch the first of July.

Andrew: All right. And we’re actually doing this interview about 10 days before your launch; we’ll publish it after your launch. Clearly, this isn’t my typical interview. I usually wait for companies that have a product that’s launched, and I’m very strict about how much revenue I want them to see. But I’m doing this interview to make a point. I want to show how entrepreneurs, as I said at the top of the interview, are selling first, and then building a product. Do you feel bad, having collected money from people, without having a product to show them?

Esther: No, not at all. It was actually a quite natural thing to do for me. Because I already have two companies, and I just wanted to make this one work, so I wanted to be really, really, really sure that this product is needed and people are willing to pay for it.

Andrew: Why did you want to be really sure? Did you have a time in the past where you didn’t make sure and things didn’t go right?

Esther: Yes. In my other companies, there was an inspirational idea from me and my other partner, and it’s still going, but it’s going slow. We didn’t validate it with customers. We just launched and invested a lot of money in it.

Andrew: How much money did you invest in the business?

Esther: About 12,000 euros. And a lot of time.

Andrew: 12,000 euros, a lot of time, and I’m guessing that you didn’t make 12,000 dollars back from that yet?

Esther: No, not yet.

Andrew: Wow. How much time was it?

Esther: It’s still live. It’s been live for a year and a half. And a half of year before we launched, of course.

Andrew: What was the inspiration for that previous business? And I’m going to get to Shootzilla and show how you did things differently in a moment, but there was an inspiration there. What was it?

Esther: It’s a platform for photographers. We sell to customers, portrait shoots, and it’s basically a fast and easy way to find a photographer near you. We want to take the magic out of the photography business, so people don’t have to worry about the prices of the prints afterwards; everything is set.

Andrew: So far, what you’re telling me makes sense, especially since I know you’re a photographer yourself. People will say, focus on a business that you know — you’re a photographer, you know it. You had inspiration for an idea that makes sense that people would need. What’s the mistake that now, with everything that you understand, you’re looking back and you’re recognizing that you made?

Esther: We didn’t talk to customers. So the people who actually have to book the photographers on our site, we didn’t talk to them at all.

Andrew: OK. You just said, this is necessary, I know the space, I’m going to build it, they’re going to love it.

Esther: Exactly.

Andrew: You’re smiling now. That sounds ridiculous in retrospect.

Esther: Yes. That’s how we used to do business. Before I did The Foundation, that’s how I used to do business.

Andrew: All right. And now, you did things differently. One of the first things you decided to do was look for a market. In fact, was that the very first thing that you did? Is that where you started, finding a market first? Or looking for an idea first?

Esther: Yes, we started with the market. Can I explain a bit about The Foundation, or do you want to say that? Because I feel, it’s not my idea; I followed a training called The Foundation and there’s a process in which you approach your entrepreneur thing. So we start with choosing a market, based on a couple of criteria, and then you start interviewing people in the market, to find their pain. And so you move on.

Andrew: So first you find a market. And yeah, The Foundation is a program created by Dane Maxwell and Andy Drisch [SP]. I think Dane launched it here, by introducing the idea to the Mixergy audience. Seeing if any of them needed it, he basically was validating his idea. He got a lot of response for it and said, all right, I’m going to go through with it. And one of the beliefs they have is an idea they share with me, which is that you should find your customer’s pain before you find your inspiration for the business. And so that’s what you did. But you say you wanted to start with the market first. How did you pick photography? Was it just that you knew it?

Esther: No. I actually hesitated to choose it because I know a lot of photographers. It was a bit scary, because you have to deliver if you want to start a business amongst almost friends, you know? So I first picked a completely different market, which was moving companies, and I just started cold-calling them. And there was this one criterion, that you really have to like your market. Because you’re going to spend so much time in it, building your product, investigating, interviewing people. So after a while, I thought, I like photography, I like photographers. Why shouldn’t I do that? So I switched.

Andrew: So, one of the criteria is that you have to like your market. Is there another criteria? Like, do they have to have a certain amount of money? Does the market have to be a certain size?

Esther: Yeah. Certain size, certain profitability is preferred. Not all photographers fit those criteria, I have to say that. They also warned me about that. There’s another criteria, that they are willing to pay for software on a monthly, recurring basis, and that they’re used to doing that. Because if you’re already used to paying ten bucks for Dropbox or whatever, then it’s easier to pay for something else. And I knew for a fact, because I am one of them myself, that photographers are like that.

Andrew: How did you know, beyond yourself, that photographers are used to spending money on a monthly basis for software?

Esther: Oh, I’m in a lot of networks online of photographers, so we talk about stuff like that.

Andrew: What kind of software have you seen other photographers use?

Esther: A lot of people use album-proofing software. They design albums and then they have to show clients their designs. And clients have feedback on every page. So there is software that makes that all very convenient and easy.

Andrew: So you noticed that they do pay for that on a monthly basis.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: How about another one? What other software do they use on a monthly basis?

Esther: Website and image delivery software. There’s a guy and he has a company called [??] and he’s doing really well with online software.

Andrew: All right. So, you like the market, it’s a big market, some of them have money (not all of them), and they’re used to paying for software. This is your market, these are your friends — it’s time now to do what you didn’t do with the first business, which is have conversations with them. Now, these conversations could go all over the place. How do you keep them focused, so that you end up with an idea that you can go and build a business around?

Esther: Again, there’s a structure for that. We have a lot of questions that we can ask to start the conversation. You want to have a couple of ideas, a couple of pains that they can talk about. Then you find out which is the most annoying, most painful problem.

Andrew: How do you do that? That is your goal for the call, to find a collection of pains, and then see which of those pains is so powerful that they’d want a solution for it. How do you… how do you identify what’s painful for people?

Esther: It’s difficult. You have to learn to do interviews. You have to-

Andrew: How did you do it? When you did it-

Esther: I just-

Andrew: When you did it well?

Esther: I still have to learn a lot, I think.

Andrew: K. That’s alright.

Esther: Yea.

Andrew: You obviously got far enough that you were able

Esther: Yea.

Andrew: -to close more sales now with this business before you launched, than you were with the first one which was actually launched, and you had a partner and track record with. So, take me to your most powerful call. Can you break down what you did on that call to identify a pain point that a photographer had?

Esther: Some things happen by coincidence.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Esther: So, there’s one call that I remember very vividly because he wasn’t interested at all in my product.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Esther: And he was rambling on. And… he was talking about his own solution, how he did things. And I was like, OK, I’ll just hear him out. [laughs] But then, days later I thought of it again because somebody else mentioned something that clicked. So I had to piece the puzzles together to see that, hey, he has the same issue she has. And then I started validating other people.

Andrew: I see. So what did… when he was rambling, what was the issue that you noticed that he had?

Esther: Well for this particular thing he said, well because I was thinking of doing some kind of referral software. In my tool. He said “well I don’t like [???] equally valuable for me because I only work Fridays. And I only work when my partner has-” or whatever- something. And he had spread sheets where he kept track of his available dates. And so these available dates thing, got a thing. And a lot of people had that.

Andrew: A lot of people had some kind of spreadsheet with available dates,

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: and if they booked a date they would make it unavailable. I see. And then you started to identify a problem with that spreadsheet?

Esther: Yeah, there’s a problem. And it is also an opportunity. Because, if I have the available dates of all the photographers, they can easily refer leads to each other.

Andrew: I see.

Esther: So it was an extra, very valuable feature for me to make a solution for.

Andrew: Gotcha. And that all happened because you were listening to this guy ramble, you noticed a pain, and you said I’ve got to validate it. And we’ll come back to the validation in a moment. But, you told April that you talked to dozens of people- somewhere between 50 and 100 people. So-

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: I’m thinking of two things there. First of all, how do you find 50 to 100 photographers who are potential customers?

Esther: How?

Andrew: Yea. Yea, I’m thinking of the person whose listening to us right now goes “alright, I have to make these phone calls.” And I know what is going on in his hear or her head. It’s, “Holy crap how am going to get 50- 100 people?” And then “holy crap how am I going to myself comfortable with calling 50-100 strangers and just talking to them? And letting them ramble? And figuring out their problems? And not having them say I’m too busy.” So let’s take the first one first. Which is, how do you get these people? Where do you find 50-100 potential customers?

Esther: You can find them in a lot of different ways. You have to think about where are they?

Andrew: Yup.

Esther: I knew, for a fact, that my audience was on Facebook. So, it’s easy to connect with people on Facebook.

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: And I am in a couple of groups with wedding photographers. So it’s really, really easy to connect with them. And I know from a lot of colleagues from within the foundation, that they found their audience on LinkedIn. And in LinkedIn you can join groups. And within groups you can message people.

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: And there are lots of different ways to find people.

Andrew: What is the biggest source of potential customers for you? It was Facebook, wasn’t it? Just talking to strangers on Facebook.

Esther: Yup.

Andrew: And you would just find them, see that they’re photographers, and ping them on Facebook messaging and ask them to talk to you.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: What’s the hook for them to talk to you? You’re not a customer.

Esther: I know… After a while I knew their pain.

Andrew: So what about before? So if you know my pain, and you call me up and you say, hey Andrew, I know you’ve got a problem where you can’t schedule all your photo shoots, I think I have a solution. I’m excited if I have that problem. But what about before, when you’re just trying to just rap with me and trying to figure out where the problem is?

Esther: Just send them a short note. Listen, I got a real serious question, but I want to know what’s the biggest pain in your business from day to day. And so, stuff like that.

Andrew: I would blow that off. I get emails like that.

Esther: Well, now you do.

Andrew: What keeps people from blowing that off?

Esther: Well, a lot of people respond.

Andrew: They did? Just asking straight up like that, hey, I want to understand?

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: But did you give them an incentive? Did you say, hey, I’m going to build software for photographers, I’m a photographer myself?

Esther: Yeah, after they went into a conversation I told them, but not in the beginning. Not in the email. You could test different ways and see which one works better.

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: And also, with the cold calling with the moving agencies, I didn’t know any of them. They were completely cold calls and I was like… totally scared they’d say, you’re bothering me, go away. And they would probably do that, but I got lucky, I guess. So, I got 100% of the people just willing to talk to me. And they talked to me for half an hour, right from the start. So even…

Andrew: And if that’s the case… I just interrupted you, which I shouldn’t be doing.

Esther: No problem.

Andrew: But in that case, with the movers, you just found their numbers online. You picked up the phone, you called them. You didn’t even have to hunt them down on Facebook, you didn’t have to ask their permission for a call, you just called them up.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: OK. All right, so now we’ve got two different approaches to how to get people on the phone to ask them questions. Let’s talk about how to get you comfortable with making a phone call. It’s not easy.

Esther: No, it’s not.

Andrew: Talk about… before you even talk about the solution, let me and my audience identify with the problem. So that we don’t just blow it off and go, oh, she doesn’t know how to do it. If you start describing, in detail, what was going on in your head, I bet the person listening to us will go, oh, yeah, I thought I was a he-man, I thought I was a she-man, or she-woman, or whatever, and I relate to that. So, give us a couple of things that went through your head.

Esther: Before the first calls, I was like… looking at the phone a lot.

Andrew: Uh-huh.

Esther: No, I really… I think I postponed it for a couple of days.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Esther: And then there was this exercise from Byron Katie that is describing how to write down your biggest thoughts and fears. So I wrote them down, and it’s like, oh man, I’m bothering them and what will they say? Who do you think you are? They will think that, you know? Stuff like that. All these thoughts are going through your head. They were going through my head and… Yeah, I had to reprogram that. I had to…

Andrew: And the idea is… This is Byron Katie, just to make sure it comes across. I never heard of his questioning. I’ve been doing the same thing here with my audience, in private, where we force ourselves to write down these insecure thoughts that we have in our heads. What we’ve been calling the counter mind. You want to do something like make a phone call, there’s a part of your head that just wants to counter it. And if you write it down and you pay attention to it, it starts to take away some of its power. And I thought I was the genius who came up with this on my own, but apparently someone else did, too. The point, though, is apparently it works. Right? It worked for you to put this stuff down?

Esther: Yeah. Yeah, it works. I think it works for everybody, if you’re just paying attention to what your thoughts really are?

Andrew: Yeah.

Esther: You’re conscious about it, then it will work because there… Byron Katie has a book, The Four Questions That Will Change Your Life. And, I think the second question is, is it really true? What you just wrote down.

Andrew: Yeah.

Esther: And you know it’s not true. Those people don’t know me, so how can they think, what the hell’s she thinking calling me? I mean, there’ll be just… that I want to invest my time into their problems.

Andrew: Yeah. All right, so you did this exercise to really come to terms with what was going on in your head, what that inner chatter was, and that helped reduce it. What about the fact that you’re in a group of other people who are all making phone calls, did that help?

Esther: Yeah, that helped, too.

Andrew: Do you have an example of a time maybe when you were stalled and you saw, hey, all these other people are making phone calls, it’s not such a big deal?

Esther: Yeah, there’s a… the foundation has a private chat room. So everybody goes there and says, I’m really scared to pick up the phone. And other people are saying, I just did my first phone call. So, that really helps to see that everybody is having the same fears and just doing it anyway. And making progress because that’s really motivating to see that people are working successfully or having success.

Andrew: Testing. Good, we’re back. By the way, editor, keep my ramble about we’re having trouble with the software in there. I don’t want people to think I’m editing because Esther said something and I wanted to keep it out of the interview. I want people to know, I’m editing just because we’re having tech issues. You never edit for content. All right, I understand who you called, I understand what you did. You hunted down a problem, checked in with them and said, “Is this a real problem for you?” All of that is good stuff. People will sometimes say stuff like “Yeah, this is a great problem,’ or “Ester, way to go. You found software that I like,” but that’s not enough validation. As I said at the top of the interview, money is the validator. Is that true?

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: Why? Why is money different from having somebody say, “If you build it, I’ll pay?”

Esther: They know. As soon as the money is in the bank, you know that they’re willing to pay.

Andrew: There’s no doubt about it at that point.

Esther: There’s no doubt about it, no.

Andrew: OK. To get to the point where you can actually say, “Pay me,” I think you what you did, you told April Dykeman in the pre-interview, you just use pencil and pen and sketched out your idea. Is that right?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: What did they say when they saw your idea?

Esther: I think, I showed it only to two photographers and they were like “Yeah, that could work.” Then, I moved onto Keynote.

Andrew: Keynotopia.

Esther: Keynotopia. I sketched it in there and made a whole working demo prototype, which is nothing more than a PowerPoint or presentation slides. It looked like…

Andrew: What Keynotopia does is it lets you create mockups that look like fully functioning software in Keynote, the Apple program. Actually, I think Amir, who created that also has software for PC’s that work on PowerPoint.

Esther: Yeah, he does.

Andrew: He does, right? When you showed that to them…I guess what you did, if I understand this right, you found some people who said, “Yes, we have this problem. We can’t schedule properly, if you can make it easier for us to schedule, then we’d love your program.” Right?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: Then, you sketched it out, showed it to a few of them. They gave you some feedback, then you went to Keynotopia and created a full mockup of it. Then, you took it to the people who said, “Esther, we have a scheduling problem,” right?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: OK. Your first version wasn’t perfect out of the gate, was it?

Esther: No, not at all.

Andrew: What’s some of the helpful feedback that you got that you wouldn’t have known if you didn’t show them the mockup?

Esther: A lot. I don’t create anything anymore without showing it to my customers. You really think you know it all. I really think I know it all when designing my app. Every time somebody tells me a little thing that I could change, or that’s not clear, or it could be better, it’s the little things. Color positioning.

Andrew: Do you have a specific example of something that you learned by talking to your customers with the mockup in hand?

Esther: Yeah, I created this board with little dots that have move forward to complete every booking. I made every dot orange, I don’t know why. [laughs] It looks funky. I got the feedback to make the colors 30 percent due date. If they’re passed due, they should be red. If there’s still time, they’re green. Somebody else came after that and said, “Can you add in the last task in the little dot?” It got bigger and more valuable.

Andrew: The idea is not just to give them a calendar replacement, but to allow them to keep track of where they are with the customers throughout the planning for the shoot. A shoot isn’t pick up the phone, call up a photographer, say, “What are your days?” He says, “Friday.” You say, “OK, go for it.” It’s more like months in advance, right?

Esther: Yeah, it’s specifically for wedding and portrait photographers. Their pain is the big responsibility of delivering the best job they can do on the perfect day of people’s life. It’s a big responsibility. They always book them months in advance, so there are a lot of different milestones. Calls, notes, meals sent in between that time. They have to check all of that. After the wedding day, delivery starts and they have a specific deadline for each shoot, portrait shoots. They fly in between and have shorter deadlines. Sometimes, they don’t know what photos they should work on.

Andrew: I see.

Esther: Get people the right priority.

Andrew: It’s not to allow them…

Esther: With my tools, it’s crystal clear. They can see it in one glance, yeah.

Andrew: You mentioned all the different feedback that you got when you showed people a mock-up. That’s helpful, but it can also be overwhelming. You don’t want to start to satisfy everybody because then you end up with this monster of a program that no one understands how to use because there are too many different features. How did you decide what to include and what to say, I’m sorry I can’t put that in version one?

Esther: I read a book from 37signals, “Getting Real”.

Andrew: Uh-huh.

Esther: And that really helped because my first sketches were like 20 pages, 20 screens, with all different functionalities. So, that was the monster at first. And… and then I read the book and I did every step of the book. I just wrote every step of the book. All the exercises in the book, I did that. And then after that book, I could see the real plan is in these eight screens. So that’s what I should build first. And then that’s the mock-up that I showed people to give me money with.

Andrew: Wait, you wrote down all the pain points that people had, all the things that they wanted. And you said, whatever they want, the big… of all these features, you highlighted all the ones that were most applicable to the pain that you were addressing.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: I see. So, what’s a feature you had to say no to in version one? Help me understand this process a little bit more.

Esther: The calendar.

Andrew: The calendar?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: OK.

Esther: I thought I really should have a calendar in there, but the biggest pain is to see where you’re at. And you have a specific workflow and you want to know what step are you. And… you want to know it for all your sheets. And you want to know what’s the first task that you have to do. And you don’t need a calendar for that.

Andrew: Right. What you need is… If I’m remembering right from your software, it’s columns with the steps that the photographer takes, and rows with the clients, and those dots move along the columns from left to right as each step is taken care of, right?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: And that’s more important than a calendar, even though a calendar is nice to have.

Esther: Yeah, everybody wants a calendar, but yeah. It’s not…

Andrew: So, this is a little bit…

Esther: It’s not the greatest thing.

Andrew: Mm-hmm. This seems to have veered a little bit off of what you initially wanted to do, which is to help people keep track of when they were free and if a customer of theirs wasn’t available on a day that they were free, who they can recommend that customer go talk to. That was the original idea.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: And it evolved to this, as you were talking?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: OK.

Esther: Well, actually, I’m building the calendar and the availability calendar as well.

Andrew: OK.

Esther: But it wasn’t the most minimal viable product, as they call it in Getting Real. And I used the minimum viable product to get me the money.

Andrew: OK. And your minimum viable product wasn’t actually completed software. And we’ll get to how you’re building the software in a bit, but the minimum viable product, as I understand it, was an info pack.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: What’s in the info pack?

Esther: Just the mock-ups.

Andrew: It’s just the mock-ups. OK, here’s the mock-up, this is what the program will do, do you like it?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: And if you do, you’re saying, pay me.

Esther: Yeah, and I created a little Kickstarter program, so they could choose from a lifetime subscription, or two years, or six months. So I had a little price for everybody.

Andrew: And you put it on Kickstarter?

Esther: No, no, no. It was just a slide in my presentation.

Andrew: I see. It’s just, if you pay me this amount, you’ll get a lifetime account. If you pay me this amount, you’ll get a discounted six month period. That kind of thing.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: Here’s what I’m seeing. What you told April was, six month in advance gives you a 10% discount. That doesn’t seem huge.

Esther: No.

Andrew: Okay. They’re paying you in advance. Where do you get the courage to say to someone, pay me in advance, I don’t have the software, and I’m going to give you a 10% off?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: It’s just from going through this process?

Esther: Yeah, I think so. And it’s also from marketing because it’s psychological. I mean, you’re first saying a lifetime subscription is 1000 euros and you say, three years in advance is 400 euros, and then you say six months is only 192.

Andrew: Ah, Okay. So, you don’t present it as a 10% discount. You present it as a number that looks smaller than the other numbers.

Esther: I think… I think that’s why people chose it. Most people chose the middle part, but some people chose the six months.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Esther: And it’s just a smaller amount. And they still wanted to get in because they get a 10% for life. So, it’s nice.

Andrew: I see. Yeah, Dane Maxwell did a course, one of the first ones on Mixergy, about copywriting, and it still does really well, and one of the tips that he gave there is, he talked about the idea of anchoring a price. You don’t want to just give a price, you want to give it in relationship to a huge price, and the example that we used in that course was Steve Jobs saying “People think that this iPad’s going to cost $1,000, but they’re wrong. It’s going to cost $600″ or whatever the original one that was, and suddenly the six hundred dollars seems less, it feels like a bargain. He’s anchored you to think about the higher number first. Alright, where did you learn how to do all this sales stuff? Again, the foundation.

Esther: Yeah. I know a little bit about branding, and a little bit about marketing, but not as what I learned in the foundation, is much more the stuff that you need as an entrepreneur, as a real entrepreneur. The one that sells.

Andrew: [Laughter]

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: Not the one that has inspiring ideas.

Esther: Exactly. [laughs]

Andrew: How many pre-sales did you get?

Esther: So far, 23.

Andrew: Twenty-three people paid you? Money’s already in the bank?

Esther: Yeah, yeah.

Andrew: That’s already been collected and paid.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: I see. Alright, so you got this, now you’re supposed to use this money to go and get a developer.

Esther: Oh no, it’s already, he’s already working on it.

Andrew: He didn’t.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: Where did you get your developer?

Esther: In Ardisk. He’s from Poland, and he’s the best.

Andrew: How many pre-sales did you want? You got 23 total, how many pre- sales did you wait to get before you hired him?

Esther: I wanted to have like two or three thousand euros before I started to hiring.

Andrew: I see. And you felt that that was enough validation that was at like five, ten people, right?

Esther: Yeah, something like that.

Andrew: So, I’ve asked this of several entrepreneurs who are non-developers who hire developers: if you don’t know how to code, how do you know who to hire? How do you know if they work they do is good?

Esther: Yeah, it’s really scary. I mean, I procrastinated on hiring a developer for like, two or three weeks. But again, the foundation had a real good process, where they said step by step what to do, so I just followed that process to the letter. And there’s also people in the foundation who can help you evaluate developers, so I used those as well.

Andrew: Walk me through the process. I don’t want people to hear that too many of the answers are “Well, the foundation has the answer”, because then they’re going to say, “Andrew, why the hell are you interviewing Esther instead of interviewing the Foundation?”

Esther: Yes!

Andrew: We’ll do that, but I want to hear your experience. So, what helped you find the developer? What’s the process that you used?

Esther: It starts with a job description.

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: So you just write down what you want your developer to develop, like steps. I wrote down my screens, I think I even included my mockups.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Esther: And I asked around “What would be a good language to write this in?” So, people said, well [??] or you know, [??] is good, so I just chose one, I don’t know why, I just chose one, and I put that in the job description. And then it goes out, and there are a couple filters you can use to skim through all the people that apply.

Andrew: What’s one of the filters?

Esther: One of the filters is whether they are working for an agency, or whether they are working independent.

Andrew: Which do you prefer?

Esther: Well, when people are working for an agency, it’s not always like it, but sometimes they can just switch around people, and you don’t know who you’re working with anymore.

Andrew: I’ve had that. Very frustrating.

Esther: Yeah, you have to explain your product again, which is not helpful. So I just wanted to have independent people. You can use a phrase in your application, like ‘funky tomatoes’, whatever, and have them put that in their application, so you know at least they read it, which is also very helpful, if people just read what you’re writing.

Andrew: Yeah, because a lot of people on these platforms just copy and paste the same response to everyone, because they want to apply for all the jobs, and whatever one they get, they’ll figure out how to do, and that’s just basically just spam. So yeah, Derek Sivers I think, told me to have a question that just makes sure that they’re human. Kind of like ‘Captcha’ with an email. And what yours is, you want to just, yours is simple, just saying “If you’re human, use the word ‘funky tomatoes’ somewhere in your application.” Okay.

Esther: Yeah. Could be anywhere, so it’s really fun to see, see what they come up with. And that really brings down the number of applications from 40 to 3 in my case. Then you can have the final people do a test, a ?? test. And you have someone evaluate their coding. That’s what I did.

Andrew: Where did you find the test to give them?

Esther: From the Foundation.

Andrew: You had a test you used to give the developer?

Esther: Yes

Andrew: What was the test?

Esther: It was a Ruby On Rails test. I have no idea what it was, actually. I’m sorry.

Andrew: It was just a test, then someone else in the Foundation, who’s a developer, another member, said “this guy did a good job”.

Esther: Yes. And also, it was actually Reuben Kominsk [SP] from.

Andrew: Viscetch [SP]

Esther: Yeah, you know him.

Andrew: Yeah, he’s a ?? or something. He’s a good friend of mine. So you went to him and said “hey, this is what the guy at ODesk gave me, I don’t even know, I’m not going to look at it. Is this good?”

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: Did you pay the developer, the ODesk developer, to take this test?

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: You did. What did you pay for the test?

Esther: One guy took two hours, so it was $30.00. And the other guy did it and he didn’t even charge me.

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: Guess which one I chose?

Andrew: [laughs] Shouldn’t they both have charged you? Wouldn’t you want the person who charges you because he fits into your ETHOS more? Or, you’re just starting out, and so you wanted a better deal?

Esther: Actually, it was a combination of both, because the communication was also nicer with the guy from Poland.

Andrew: And his was the guy who didn’t charge you said “Hey, I can do this. I’ll solve it”. And you hired him.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: How much did it cost you to have the whole this built?

Esther: I think, E13,000.00 now, and he’s still building. I’m investing my own money now as well.

Andrew: How much of your own money did you put into it?

Esther: Well, now, approximately 2,000.00.

Andrew: What do you do with the people who paid you to keep the up-to-date or to keep them from saying, “Hey, I wanted the software, where are you”?

Esther: I already put them on the software for the minimum final products and I’m launching now with the calendar as well.

Andrew: The software is launched?

Esther: No, it’s the Beta.

Andrew: The Beta version is launched. So this thing that I described earlier with the columns and dots that you talked about that change color based on how late you are, where you are in the process, that’s already up and running and you gave it to your Beta testers you paid you?

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: I see. Any problems that they discovered that you didn’t know about before?

Esther: No.

Andrew: Okay. So, basically, the software that you promised them is there, in their hands. It’s just bare-bones?

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: And it’s not available to anyone else yet. I went on your site just a moment ago and you said “coming soon”. I didn’t even say July 1st, it said sometime this summer.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. It’s collecting e-mail addresses. How are you getting people to come to that page now and give you their e-mail address?

Esther: I write e-mails to people as well. There are a lot of websites for wedding photographer collectives. I just write them and tell them I have a really cool tool. Come to my site.

Andrew: Come to my site. I have a really cool tool. And you want them to review it?

Esther: I want them to subscribe to my mailing list and to know it’s getting there the first of July.

Andrew: Okay. So, you’re saying, “Hey, I have this cool tool, it’s coming out the first of July, you should add yourself to my list because when it launches you’re going to be one of the first people to find out about it?”

Esther: Well, different words, of course.

Andrew: What are your words? What do you say?

Esther: I actually use a bit of fear, to get their attention, to open the email.

Andrew: What’s the fear?

Esther: The fear is that they are forgetting a wedding, or forgetting a shoot, or forgetting ?? So, I use a subject line that says, “Where are you?”

Andrew: Ha ha ha. Because you dealt it for photographers, that triggers…

Esther: Oh, it triggers, yeah.

Andrew: And then, how do you carry it through with the body?

Esther: I tell them, as a wedding photographer myself, I know that this is one of the worst fears, to forget something. That’s why I’m building Shootzilla.

Andrew: I see. “Where are you?” They open it up and you go, “Hey, as a photographer, I know those are some of the hardest words to hear. That’s why I’m building Shootzilla, etc. If you want access, come to the site, add your e-mail”.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: How many e-mail addresses do you have?

Esther: So far, 60 or 70.

Andrew: Sixty or seventy people have gone through this process, given you their e-mail.

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: Have you stopped selling now because you’re working on building the product?

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: You have. How many people started out the foundation?

Esther: I think about… 300.

Andrew: Is it 300? I thought it was more.

Esther: More?

Andrew: I don’t know actually.

Esther: Okay. Yeah, there are different tiers, so in my tier, the elite tier, with coaching and all, I think there were 300.

Andrew: Okay, right. I think there was more, you went the elite, I think there were people who went for the smaller option. Overall, it was a big number.

Esther: Yeah.

Andrew: Not everyone managed to get presales. People who didn’t, what did they do wrong? I want to learn from that.

Esther: Yeah… Should I answer that?

Andrew: Of course. I mean, we’re not going to talk about anyone specifically, but we do want to learn from them.

Esther: I think… sometimes it’s time and mindset because…

Andrew: So they weren’t willing to put in the time?

Esther: Yeah, or they’re not productive enough, getting distracted a lot.

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: And I know for a fact how difficult it is to stay on track. I mean, I have that issue every week. So you really have to be focused. You have to have a clear “why” you are doing it. And if people don’t have that, they might just drift off and don’t see the importance of it anymore.

Andrew: I see. What was your “why”?

Esther: My “why” is to have an income, which is location independent that supports me and my family.

Andrew: I see. And you wanted that so badly that you were willing to push off other things so that you can stay focused on this?

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: How many people, would you say, got pre-sales?

Esther: I’m not sure. Thirty or forty?

Andrew: Okay.

Esther: I’m not sure.

Andrew: Okay. If you were listening to this, we’re almost at the end of the interview. If you were listening to this two years ago and you heard everything that you and I have just said, there would still be one thing that would be missing that you and I didn’t talk about. What would be? What else would you need in order to implement this… this process that we just talked about?

Esther: The most important thing we discussed is your mindset and why.

Andrew: Mindset and mission, so if we could just… We just laid out the whole process. Any one could use this process. They won’t have as much help and support along the way as you did, but they’ll have a process that works. Find a market that you love, that’s big enough, where people are used to paying, etc. Right? We talked about that in the beginning. Then start to call people in that market and we talked about how to do it, right? Whether you just pick up the phone, like you did when you were in the moving company, or go on Facebook and Linkedin and ask them to call you, or give you their number so you can call them. You’re making… you’re contacting them.

Then you talk to them and you look for their pain. Sometimes you just let them ramble until you hit on a pain. Then you come back, once you find that pain? I see you’re nodding. So tell me if I’m wrong at any point. I want you to call me out because I want to understand your process. Then you find a pain that’s consistent, that several people have had. You come back, after you’ve found several and, in fact, you found several. And then you look for the one that’s the most painful, and you go back to the people that expressed it. And you say, is this what you’re feeling? Right? OK?

Esther: Yeah. That was it.

Andrew: Then you say, I think I can solve it. If I solve it with this, would you be willing to pay? Then you sent them a Keynotopia mock-up with that solution and you said, if I build this, will you pay? And in fact, if you pay, here are the different levels that you can pay at. That’s essentially what you did.

Esther: That’s essentially what I did, yeah. And it’s… it’s always… the details are a lot of… Yeah. You can always… You can send a mock-up and not follow up. Or you can do one on one Skype where every hour you’re screening, where your ideas get direct feedback. Which is what I did.

Andrew: I see.

Esther: So, in one approach, it won’t work. But the other approach, you get direct feedback. And you know if the people are just being nice because they want to please you, or if they really want to have it, because you can look them in the eye.

Andrew: I see, I see. You do a conversation like this, with the screen sharing. And you say, so the first screen you’re going to see is this. And if they go like that…

Esther: Yes.

Andrew: You realize they’re a little confused. I was trying to do a confused face, I don’t think that it came across.

Esther: Yeah, it came across.

Andrew: All right, I got you. I got you. All right. I’m going to do a quick plug here and then I want to ask you one final question. The plug is for Mixergy premium. If you heard this, I always want to recommend some programs as follow-ups to my interviews because that’s what seems to…. that’s what people like best. So, since we talked about the foundation, I’m going to suggest some things. First, two interviews with Dane Maxwell. The first one where he talked about how he build his software company. The second one where he came and talked about, well it the one where he announced the foundation; where he said, what his vision was, what he was trying to do. And then there are two other programs that will be helpful. The one with Sam Ovans, where he talked about how he went through this process and created software.

I’m going to come back and ask you about that. Thanks for doing this interview from your fathers place. Your parent’s place. And, what else can I recommend as a follow up to this. Yes, yes, yes, if you want to hear what a phone call is like when you are doing idea extraction, Dane Maxwell gave me a copy of his call with a potential customer where he figured out his problem and he showed how this whole process works. Do you record your calls like Dane did?

Esther: No, I didn’t.

Andrew: You don’t. You just get on the phone and talk to them. Alright, all those available to Mixergy premium members and don’t forget the course, I shouldn’t forget the course that I talked about earlier about copyrighting where Dane talked about how to anchor prices, how to make a price that’s high seem not so high by coming up with another price and putting it side by side with the price you really want. Alright, all that’s at mixergpremium.com. I guarantee you will love it. I met Dane because he was a Mixergy Premium Member and I’m hoping that you, the person that’s listening to me, will become a Mixergy Premium Member too. Alright, why are you still at your parents’ house?

Esther: My kids are going to be at exactly the time the internship plan so I thought, it’s quieter here.

Andrew: So here’s the thing, the real final question is this: I asked you at the beginning of the interview, “What’s a win for you?” And you said, “Hey, Andrew, frankly you don’t have that many photographers who is listening and I don’t need to come talk to other entrepreneurs about my business to get a handful of photographers to come over. I’ve got better ways to do it. So I said, “What is a win for you?” And you said, “I want other female entrepreneurs to know that they can do this.” Why? What’s the challenge that female entrepreneurs have?

Esther: It’s just that I hear a lot of female entrepreneurs who think they can’t do it because it sounds too big or too difficult and just slice it up. Just make it small. Baby steps all the way and it all starts with knowing your thoughts, knowing your fears and the big Y, and you can do it.

Andrew: We got examples on Mixergy of literally hundreds of entrepreneurs who have. And I’m hoping the person whose listening to me will continue to build their business if they started it or start a business if they haven’t, and one day, just like Ester, be here and let me do an interview about how they built their business. So thanks for doing this interview

Esther: Thanks for having me.

Andrew: And to the person whose watching this, thank you for being a part of this and I’m hoping to see you up on Mixergy sometime, where I can talk over you just like how I talked over Esther a few times here. [Laughs] Alright, thank you all. Bye.

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  • Dane Maxwell

    So inspired by you Esther! You were one of the superstars at http://TheFoundation.com – loved our one on one’s together with your little one running in the background :-)

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I like the process you guys use at The Foundation.

    Hey Dane, did you guys just buy the .com, I thought you were a .io and that’s what I linked to in the post.

  • Dane Maxwell

    We own the .com baby :-)

  • Esther de Boer

    Thanks Dane ;-) don’t feel like a superstar at all and the inspiration is mutual. As I am inspired with many on this website. Thanks for hosting me & doing all these incredible interviews Andrew!

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Cool. Andrea changed it in the post.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks for being on here!

  • http://www.decalmarketing.com/adwords-book/ Iain Dooley

    The thing that struck me most about this interview was that Esther was willing to read and learn from other successful people then take those lessons and *put them into action*.

    Repeated throughout the interview are examples of her taking a system or educational resource and just doing what it says on the box (the examples that come to mind are the system taught at the Foundation, Byron Katie’s 4 Questions and Getting Real (or possibly Rework?) from 37 signals).

    I think we can probably all think of times in our lives where we’ve paid for expert advice and for whatever reason we didn’t just follow the damned instructions (a HUGE one for this is nutrition and personal training, don’t you think?).

    I was really impressed by the way that Esther just took in all this great advice and executed it like a boss, overcoming all her mental blocks and self doubt, and in the end came out at the top of the class.

    Looking forward to the follow up interview once ShootZilla launches!!

  • http://www.cuponismo.com Geordie Wardman

    Esther has SUCH a likable personality, she’s a great inspiration. I love how she laid out the process in a way that illustrates that anyone can do this. Even a mother that’s hustling with two other companies, raising children, and starting another service funding the development from pre-selling her product. I don’t know how she does it all, but it inspires me. Great job!

  • http://www.cuponismo.com Geordie Wardman

    Me too!

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah. And it’s not all the usual startup-y sources.

  • netismyteacher

    It’s still showing as .io instead of .com

  • Mitesh

    Haven’t watched the interview yet but I will when I get some free time. I agree entrepreneurship is all about the hustle, never stop, don’t give up and hopefully you’ll get to the finishing line. Maybe Andrew will agree, it’s a lot like running a marathon and hitting the dreaded wall and just powering through it regardless of what doubts, obstacles you face.

  • http://www.decalmarketing.com/adwords-book/ Iain Dooley

    Hey Mitesh: did you realise that every interview has an mp3? I didn’t realise that for about the first year and a half after I found Mixergy.
    Nowadays I just download the mp3 and listen while I take my walk each day so I can consume the content as fast as Andrew produces it. I used to worry about having to take notes in order to learn but I have found that just by listening to the interviews I retain so much valuable information I don’t even have to.

    In fact, my top interviews are so memorable that when I went through and made this list for a friend the other day, I could actually remember where I was and what I was doing a lot of the time when I listened to them:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1q1kUkVqdutSUqJRjeZucVdfiX_0gf0Cy9j7EgBaQmdc/edit?usp=sharing

  • Bren Davis

    Andrew! Great interview. Thanks :-) I also really would have liked to hear about her growth strategy though (seems like that was left out).

    QUESTION FOR YOU: How can I find the recording of Dane’s idea extraction call? I am a premium member, but can’t find it.

  • SEOJoe

    Good to see Esther on Mixergy!

  • http://wojt.eu Wojtek Kruszewski

    Esther seemed very well prepared, with mockups and clear MVP. I was impressed that she’s familiar with 37 signals approach and iterative development. I really wanted to work with her and get the ball rolling fast and that’s why I did not bother to charge for the test assignment.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Strange. I could have sworn we fixed it.

    I’m on vacation, but I asked Andrea to check it out.

  • Marcin

    Wojtek, I’m from Poland too. Maybe someday we could also work on a SaaS project together.
    Esther, good luck with Shootzilla!

  • http://www.dadverb.com/ Roger Williams

    Andrew, you are so genuine. I loved the last bit at the end, made me smile.

    Also, I wanted to bring up two nagging fears over the Foundation method:

    1) I would worry about someone stealing the idea, or getting hip to the idea of doing some other SAAS in the same market.

    2) At least where I am from, people are suspicious when you probe them about their business. It is not just me, I talked to someone who tried a SAAS, and ran into the same thing. In fact, I had a friend probe me about some habits, and then said “what if you had a solution for that problem?”. I was like, “Dude! Are you trying to sell me?” It was weird.

    Anyway, again Andrew, thank you for your sincerity.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Are they suspicious even if you want to know their big problems?

    Don’t people love to talk about them?

  • Kim Vu

    Andrew, I’m quite a reader, in fact, I don’t listen or view the interviews, I just read the transcripts (and it’s much faster for me to consume the information that way). I really was impressed that Esther was able to create her business by following advice step by step instructions in a book (and the course).

    Is there a list of books that you personally think is essential reading for entrepreneurs? They could range anywhere from inspirational, technical, or step by step startup.

    I’d love to see that as a blog post.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Hey Kim! I think my mentor, Bon Hiler, might never have seen a single interview, but he’s an incredibly fast reader who can consume a full interview in less time than it takes me to read the ads.
    For books on this process, I think the best ones are part of Eric’s Lean Startup series. My favorite is Ash Maurya’s because it’s light on theory and heavy on process. You don’t need much to understand the Lean Startup methodology, but the process for getting it done can be harder than it seems.

    His book:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1449305172

  • abby725

    just as Denise replied I cannot believe that some one able to profit $9874 in one month on the internet. did you look at this website w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • John Lee

    Thank you Andrew! Yet another inspiring interview for me that fuels my motivation even more! Seeing so many different interviews and reading different books out there, they’ve always left me with unanswered questions with no validation. What makes your interviews on Mixergy so enjoyable and useful is that it’s almost as if you knew what I was going to ask next and tackled the problems that I myself face. I value your interviews at the utmost appreciation and thank you for your work.
    There are some things to note that I do wish there was a little more information on. And that is how did she price the product and the process of getting the customers to recognize the value to justify the price of the product.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thank you.

  • http://www.cuponismo.com Geordie Wardman

    Hi Roger – A comment on the stealing of your idea. I used to worry about that type of stuff as well, until I really saw that there are SOOO many ideas out there. It’s the action and the sales and marketing that are way more important. Honestly, I feel like you could literally lay a blue print out on the Internet for people to use, and you’d still be safe as long as you’re hustling with your sales and marketing.

  • Esther de Boer

    Thanks Marcin!

  • Esther de Boer

    Hi John, as to pricing I asked questions like ‘how much time will this save you on a daily basis’ and ‘how much more bookings will this generate for you’ and ‘at how much do you value an hour of your time’. When I had a couple of those questions answered by different photographers I had an estimate of the value that my tool would bring. I priced it at 10% of that value.

  • Esther de Boer

    ;-) Thanks

  • Esther de Boer

    Hey Bren, I am actually still in the middle of figuring out my growth strategy ;-). I am thinking of doing email first (just got back from 3 weeks vacation) and really measuring and optimizing my email > trial > paying customer funnel. Next to that I am talking to some people in the industry who could become affiliate partners. This is just the beginning. When my funnel is converting like a pro ànd I have a rough idea of what my customer life time value is I will start thinking about paid advertising. Hope that helps!

  • Esther de Boer

    Don’t know if I mentioned that in the interview, but your humor really convinced me too and still brightens up my day regularly ;-) love working with you and hope we can continue for a looonng time!

  • Igor

    Hi Andrew and Esther,

    Thanks for the interview. I’m still surprised that photographers could be a good fit for a SAAS product.

    I’m a long-time Mixergy listener and I see the value of finding a pain and eventually getting product-market fit.

    However, I’m skeptical about the feasibility of scaling sales and marketing activities at the *price points* and in the *small/SMB markets* Foundation graduates are operating in.

    So Esther or anyone else, could you please shed some light on these points:

    -do you think you’ll be able to reach the lion’s share of the photographer market online?

    -what type of open rates and conversion rates are you getting form cold emails? do you think this is a viable long-term marketing channel?

    Thanks!

  • Mimika Cooney

    Great to hear an interview with a fellow photographer like me and business woman making it happen. Us photographers often feel overwhelmed with the stuff that needs doing so your service looks great. I’m inspired! So I’m off to take over the world and I look forward to the day Andrew and I get to chat :)))

  • Pingback: ES Presents: Esther de Boer of Shootzilla

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